The complete publishing history of the Royal Society of Chemistry will soon be available electronically.

The complete publishing history of the Royal Society of Chemistry will soon be available electronically. Louise Gill reports 

After some time the action became very violent, and gas was formed in such quantities as to expel the contents of the retort forcibly from its mouth. The retort must then be removed from the fire, when the action gradually subsides. When again placed on the fire, protected by a sand-bath, the action is not so violent.

So wrote Thomas George Tilley in ’On some of the Products of the Action of Nitric Acid on Castor Oil’, the first paper to be published in the Memoirs of the Chemical Society in 1841. Although many chemists would recognise the situation described - not uncommon in undergraduate teaching laboratories - the characterisation methods used by Tilley and his contemporaries may raise a few eyebrows among present day chemists more used to NMR spectroscopy, mass spectrometry and other modern techniques. How many chemists today, one wonders, would be prepared to describe the taste of their products?

Tilley’s paper was the first of over 210 000 articles, and 1.2m pages, published by the RSC (and its forerunner societies) between 1841 and 1996. Some of the 25 current RSC journals such as Organic & Biomolecular Chemistry trace their ’family tree’ of previous titles and incarnations back to the 1841 Memoirs of the Chemical Society.

But it is not only the titles of the RSC journals that have changed. In 1841 only three authors from outside the UK published in the Memoirs: Redfenbacher (Prague), Liebig (Giessen) and Bunsen (Marburg). Browsing through RSC journals nowadays, the pages are full of papers from Australia, the US, The Netherlands, Japan, China, India, Belgium, France, Spain, Switzerland, Poland, Russia, Korea, Sweden and Denmark. In fact, more than 80 per cent of all papers published in RSC journals are from outside the UK.

Easy access
Material published in all RSC journals from 1997 onwards is already available in electronic format. However, practising scientists regularly require access to work published before this date, often many years in the past. How many laboratory hours have been wasted in the pursuit of a breakthrough or in characterising a ’novel’ compound that was actually published 30 or 40 years ago? Modern literature searches can often give the false impression that research in the chemical sciences started about 20 years ago and that the literature before this date is of little relevance today. Problems continue when our literature search finally finds a ’missing synthesis’ in a paper published 20 to 30 years ago - only to discover that to read the paper requires an excursion to some remote library stack room or, increasingly, that there is no library.

To solve some of these problems, earlier this year the RSC began a project to produce a complete electronic archive of the RSC’s publishing history from 1841 to 1996 in Portable Document Format (PDF).

The articles will be available via issue contents lists (for browsing) and will also be accessible from full-text searches of the PDF files or more specific searches of bibliographic information. For papers from 1966 onwards it will also be possible to search the abstracts of the articles. Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs) will be assigned, allowing another access route. Articles from 1990 to 1996 will contain ’reference links’ to full text and CAS abstracts (where available) similar to the service now offered for articles from 1997 to 2003.

The archive will contain everything published in the RSC journals, including advertisements and pull-out sections (such as seating plans and menus for conference dinners). It should be of interest to historians of science as well as those seeking a specific reference.

From January 2004 electronic access will be available to over 1.2m pages of published work by the RSC for the first time. Who knows, in 150 years time maybe some new research published in an RSC journal will have been prompted by delving into the archives. 

Source: Chemistry in Britain


Louise Gill was formerly deputy editor of Chemical Communications. 

RSC journal highlights

  • One of the most cited articles in The Analyst is ’Determination of the Equivalence Point in Potentiometric Titrations. Part II’ by Gunnar Gran (Analyst, 1952, 77, 661). Familiar to many chemists, a Gran plot provides a method to calculate the end point of an acid-base reaction.
    Gran’s method involves transforming a potentiometric titration curve into a straight line by way of numerical manipulation. This means that a researcher can determine an end point by simple extrapolation. Earlier techniques had involved trying to find the point of maximum slope on a curve, which could prove difficult when titrating a weak acid with a strong base. In this case, the researcher would have had to plot the differentials DE /DV (E = potential, V = volume) and determine the peak position. In 1952 the absence of modern numerical calculation packages would have made this a laborious task. 
  • The 1972 paper ’Biomimetic Chemistry’ by Ronald Breslow published in Chem. Soc. Rev. (1972, 553) reviews the emerging area of designing organic chemistry to mimic (and in some cases improve) natural reactions. The paper not only reviews pioneering work, but also highlights Breslow’s enthusiasm for his subject in a way that inspired others. 
  • The original full paper on the use of Wilkinson’s catalyst was published in J. Chem. Soc. A in 1966 (J. A. Osborn et al, J. Chem. Soc. A, 1966, 1711). The paper, ’The preparation and properties of Tris(triphenylphosphine)halogenorhodium (i) and some reactions thereof including catalytic homogeneous hydrogenation of Olefins and Acetylenes and their derivatives’, described the first rapid and practical system for the homogeneous reduction of alkenes, alkynes and other unsaturated complexes at room temperature and pressure using RhCl(PPh3)3.
    Better known by academe and industry as Wilkinson’s catalyst, this was the first homogeneous hydrogenation catalyst with comparable rates to well-known heterogeneous catalysts. Wilkinson subsequently received the Nobel prize for chemistry (with E. O. Fischer) for his work on metallocene complexes. 
  • In 1977 Chemical Communications published a landmark paper that directly rewarded its authors with a Nobel prize (H. Shirakawa et al, J. Chem. Soc. Chem. Commun., 1977, 578). Hideki Shirakawa, Alan MacDiarmid and Alan Heeger won the Nobel prize for chemistry in 2000 for their pioneering work on organic conducting polymers. The background to their discovery was published as a Focus article in ChemComm this year marking ’twenty-five years of conducting polymers’ (N. Hall, Chem. Commun., 2003, 1). 

Further information

  • The archive is available for purchase now and will be accessible from January 2004. Customers will be able to access articles on the web in the same way as for current articles. The purchasing options include outright purchase (?25 000/$40 000) and an annual lease (?1500/$2400). You can keep up-to-date with the progress of the project via the website where you can also register your name for e-alerts. As the team finds articles of special or particular interest these will be posted on the site. 
  • If any authors of articles which would be included in the archive do not wish their articles to be digitised and made available as part of the archive they should contact the RSC immediately or in writing.


More than 160 years of essential research at your fingertips.

The RSC Journals Archive contains almost 1.4 million searchable pages of ground-breaking chemical science papers published between 1841 and 2004.